“In bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves; to provide part of the means by which those who desire to improve may do so; to give those who desire to rise the aids by which they may rise; to assist, but rarely or never to do all.”—Andrew Carnegie
In 1889, Andrew Carnegie, a successful Scottish-American industrialist, wrote these words in an essay entitled The Gospel of Wealth. He firmly believed that a generous philanthropy was the duty and responsibility of all those who rose through the ranks of society. But he also felt that those who were motivated to help themselves were the most deserving recipients of such philanthropy. And, he further believed that the best way to foster such self-help was through education and the dissemination of knowledge.
At the time, the idea of free and accessible community libraries, where motivated citizens could better themselves through such education and knowledge, was just taking hold. Many libraries at the turn of the previous century were either private, with limited public access, or connected to institutions of higher learning and open only to their enrolled students. Thus, beginning in 1883 and continuing over the next 40 years, Andrew Carnegie funded the design and construction of free-access public libraries throughout America, as well as in several foreign countries. By the time his program ended in 1929, more than 2,500 facilities had been constructed around the world, with over 1,600 of those being built in America.
Pindell Brings Carnegie to Central Illinois
In Peoria, Henry Means Pindell, founder of several predecessor newspapers to today’s Journal Star, got word of Mr. Carnegie’s program and began a vigorous pursuit. He and several other prominent members of the community, including Mr. John F. Keene and Mr. A.G. Tyng, were serving on the library board at the time. They formed a building committee, rolled up their sleeves and went to work convincing Carnegie that Peoria was a worthy recipient of one of his library grants. Pindell and his committee had to: (1) demonstrate that there was a need for a public library; (2) provide the building site for the structure; (3) annually provide 10 percent of the cost of the library’s construction to support its operation; and (4) provide free service to all.
For their library site, they selected a full city block in the heart of Peoria’s bustling Southside neighborhood, then very much the center of the community. As this parcel had for many years served as a public cemetery, they were required to relocate numerous graves to the newer Springdale Cemetery on the city’s far north side, in order to make room for the building. In this process—and most likely to minimize site disturbance and cost—many other graves were left in place. Leaving these other graves in situ would certainly come back to “haunt” the Peoria Public Library 100 years later, when the library embarked upon a comprehensive expansion of the original Lincoln Carnegie Branch.
Henry’s Grandson Continues the Tradition
For the next 80 years after its inauguration, the Lincoln Carnegie Branch Library faithfully served its Southside neighborhood, even as Peoria’s center of gravity continued its march to the north and the west.
In the early 1990s, the grandson of Henry M. Pindell, Henry Pindell Slane, then-chairman of the Peoria Journal Star, arrived on the scene. In honor of his grandfather, he offered to refurbish the aging great dame of this neighborhood in order to continue Andrew Carnegie’s wish to foster education and learning for all. Both the interior and the exterior were renovated, including being made fully handicap-accessible; and the partial basement was finished and opened for public use as a youth activity area.
Site improvements included ringing the building with a wide and attractive new circular sidewalk. The sidewalk had the effect of raising this architectural gem on a protective and nurturing plinth, thus offering a venue for all to view and experience the neo-classical beauty and detailing of the original building—and even linger in admiration for a moment if desired.
Peoria Public Library Celebrates 100 Years
Fifteen years after Slane’s refurbishment, the citizens of Peoria continued to support the original sentiments of Andrew Carnegie when they approved a major bond referendum to upgrade and expand all of the community’s library facilities. This comprehensive capital program included a further renovation of Carnegie’s neo-classical masterpiece; together with a state-of-the-art 12,000-square-foot addition to the south of the original library.
To accomplish this addition, the still-extant graves located behind the existing structure have been sensitively and appropriately removed by a team of trained archeologists. A design was created that preserved the architectural and urban integrity of the original building, while introducing an integral connection between old and new. The latter is being achieved by the construction of a narrow, all-glass link passing through an all-green, all-plant arced separation wall. That separation wall, in turn, acts as a neutral backdrop to frame and enhance the original Carnegie building, while being carefully integrated with the circular sidewalk from the Slane renovation, in order to keep the raised plinth intact.
The Lincoln Carnegie Branch Library thus begins its second century of service to the citizens of Peoria with a fresh, clean face and an expansive array of new facilities and enhancements. Its importance to Peoria’s history is evidenced by those who have kept it alive and well during its first century, as well as by its recent designation as a local Historic Landmark.
Andrew Carnegie would hopefully judge his original investment in Peoria to be a success—and to still embody his principles of philanthropy and community. Again, a passage from his essay, The Gospel of Wealth:
This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth: To set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community. iBi